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What Lasting Impact Will O'Bannon Have On College Sports?

An appeals court ruling upholds but modifies the O'Bannon ruling

In August of 2014, after 15 days of testimony, U.S. District Judge Claudia Ann Wilken for the Northern District of California issued a ruling that used the Sherman Antitrust Act to strike at the heart of the idea of amateurism in college sports.  With this ruling, the NCAA could no longer prevent school athletic programs from compensating athletes for the use of their names, images, and likenesses. 

The case went back to a 2009 filing by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon who sued the NCAA after seeing his likeness portrayed in a video game without his permission, and without receiving compensation.

Judge Wilken found for O’Bannon, concluding that the NCAA had committed an anti-trust violation of the Sherman Act, and that the NCAA must allow $5,000 in deferred payments to student athletes per year that they are active---a trust fund of sorts---to be collected upon graduation.  This would only pertain to star athletes who continuously bring revenue to their respective college or university.

Brady McCollough of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette originally covered the trial, and explains that this trust fund idea would work well for larger colleges and universities.

“Absolutely those schools can afford it,” McCollough said while on 90.5 WESA’s Essential Pittsburgh.

An appeals courts upheld the ruling last week but changed the terms slightly.  The two judge majority on the ninth circuit bench decided that the $5,000 in deferred payments was unnecessary, and that compensating athletes with full cost of room, board, tuition and extra expenses while in school is enough.  Many larger schools have begun to adopt this idea. 

McCollough explains that NCAA continues to defend itself by saying that amateurism is what makes college sports marketable to consumers.  However, McCollough does not agree.

“People are going to watch college sports religiously whether or not those 98 student athletes are getting $5,000 extra a year.” 

The one dissenting judge in the case shares a similar view writing that people will still love and pay for college sports regardless if their star players are being paid or not.

Opponents worry that compensating student athletes with a “full ride” would result in tuition increases for other students.

So what happens now?

McCollough sees an appeal from O’Bannon as unlikely.  He views this as a win for college athletes.  Still, the same issue has popped up in similar cases around the country, as in cases such as Jenkins vs NCAA, in which there is a fight for a free market for college athletes.

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